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  • Place of origin:

    Japan (made)

  • Date:

    17th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved ivory

  • Credit Line:

    Pritchett Gift

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Japan, Room 45, The Toshiba Gallery, case 8

The netsuke is a toggle. Japanese men used netsuke to suspend various pouches and containers from their sashes by a silk cord. Netsuke had to be small and not too heavy, yet bulky enough to do the job. They needed to be compact with no sharp protruding edges, yet also strong and hard-wearing. Above all, they had to have the means for attaching a cord. Netsuke were made in a variety of forms, the most widely appreciated being the katabori (shape carving), a three-dimensional carving, such as this one in the form of a shishi (mythical Chinese lion) and her young.

During the early 17th century, when katabori netsuke were first made, China had a strong influence on Japan. As a result, many Chinese illustrated books reached Japan, often in the form of encyclopaedia. One of the most important was the profusely illustrated Sancai tuhui (Tripartite picture assembly), published around 1610. Such works presented an exotic mixture of fact and fiction that was highly appealing. Of particular interest were the illustrations of mythical people and fabulous beasts, such as the shishi.

The appearance of Chinese illustrated books in Japan also coincided with the development of a thriving ivory-carving industry centred on the coastal regions of southern China, particularly Zhangzhou in Fujian province. This catered in large part for Portuguese and Spanish missionaries based throughout Asia. Through Japanese contact with China at this time, Chinese carvings reached Japan and played a crucial role in the development of netsuke. Ivory was subsequently one of the most important and widely used materials for the manufacture of netsuke, as in this example.

Physical description

This carved and stained ivory netsuke is in the form of a shishi (mythical Chinese lion) and cub, with a pair of cord holes on the underside. The adult, which has a loose ball in its mouth, holds a ball in its paws and turns it head back towards its cub, which is biting its back.

Place of Origin

Japan (made)


17th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Carved ivory


Length: 4.76 cm

Descriptive line

Netsuke of a shishi (mythical Chinese lion) and cub, ivory, Japan, 17th century.





Subjects depicted





East Asia Collection

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